Sunflowers have long been a favorite from art, jewelry, fabric, and the seeds as a snack or made into flour.
I’ve seen fields of Sunflowers that ran on forever, a palette of yellow, green, and brown moving in unison like ripples in a pond when there’s a breeze. They always make me think of Van Gogh.
A lot of people will cut the stem and remove a sunflower to harvest the seeds which have to be allowed to dry out. In fact that’s very much the commercial approach.
If the flower is heavy enough, which in most instances they are, another approach is to let their own weight break the stem and allow them to stay attached in that manner for a couple of days or so then cut the stem.
The theory, or at least ours, is that doing so hastens the drying process by remaining in the elements with results verifying that, though that isn’t a strict rule and often as not we will cut the stems just for the pleasure of working in the garden, of being close to the living, breathing entity it is, a communion of sorts.
There have been times though if careful attention is paid once the flower has bent over you can even shake it a time or two or brush across it with your hand and the seeds will release.
That may be unconventional but will work.
Using this approach though you need to be attuned to the possibility of rain – if it’s going to then you need to go ahead and sever the stem placing the flower in a dry location to avoid the possibility of mold.
An indication that the flower is approaching harvest time is the core has turned brown and the petals will begin to wilt and fall off.
Whichever approach is taken what remains should either be mulched or “plowed” back into the soil as nutrients for the coming year.
Spread mulch over the surface and then spade the soil over, nothing wrong with using one of those small mechanical plows if that’s the preference but we prefer the lack of noise, exhaust fumes,the workout, and the communal effort.
A good formula is to mulch/fertilize in the fall when the garden is done and again in the spring a week or two before planting.